Howard: I will stand down as leader

Click to follow

Michael Howard today announced he would stand down as Conservative leader - but not until the rules for choosing a successor are reformed.

Michael Howard today announced he would stand down as Conservative leader - but not until the rules for choosing a successor are reformed.

Mr Howard said he had failed to deliver the election victory he wanted and it was in the interests of the country and the party to go.

However, as there was widespread dissatisfaction with the existing rules on choosing a leader, he urged the party to reconsider them.

Until then he would remain in the post.

"I want to do now what is best for my party and, above all, my country," said Mr Howard.

Mr Howard was given a rousing reception by activists gathered at RoehamptonUniversity in the Putney constituency that was the first major Tory gain ofelection night.

The Tory leader revealed he had visited the constituency exactly 18 months ago when he took charge of the party and said then it was one of the seats they had to recapture.

That had been achieved last night, Mr Howard said, but success in other areas had not been as great as supporters had hoped.

"Of course I am very sad we didn't do better, sad for our many candidates who came within a whisker of winning a victory," he said.

"Sad for all of our supporters who worked so hard, and sad for the millions of voters who put their trust in us.

"But today the Conservative party can hold its head up high. We have begun the process of rebuilding our party, of building a broad and outward-looking party that reflects Britain in the 21st century."

The party now had its first black MP, a British Asian MP and "some fantasticnew women" in the Commons, Mr Howard said.

He was proud of the campaign that had achieved that and had put forward a positive agenda for "a brighter, better Britain".

Mr Howard added: "We have taken a huge step forward and I want to thank everyone for the fantastic support, the unstinting support that they have given me in the last 18 months, my colleagues in the shadow cabinet, my colleagues in the parliamentary party and the voluntary members of our party who have worked so hard night and day for our party in that time.

"We have taken a huge step forward - but there is much, much more to be done.

"We have got to keep listening, we have got to keep learning, we have got to work hard, not just nationally but locally, to rebuild our party at the grass roots."

Speaking in a sun-lit courtyard, Mr Howard again congratulated Tony Blair on his third election victory.

"I sincerely hope that he will listen to the British people and that he is done with all the talk and that he really will now deliver the brighter, better Britain that we all want to see.

"If he does deliver on the people's priorities on school discipline, on cleaner hospitals, on more police, on controlled immigration and on value for money, he will have the Conservative party's support."

Mr Howard continued: "As many of you know, as I have mentioned more than onceduring this campaign, I am 63 years old.

"At the time of the next election, I'll be 67 or 68 and I believe that is simply too old to lead a party into government.

"So if I can't fight the next election as leader of our party, I believe it is better for me to stand aside sooner rather than later so that the party can choose someone who can.

"I want to avoid the uncertainty of prolonged debate about the leadership of the party.

"I want the next conservative leader to have much more time than I had to prepare our party for government.

"If we achieved this much in just 18 months, imagine what we can achieve in the next four to five years.

"I have said many times since I became leader, that accountability matters.

"I have said that if people don't deliver they go, and for me, delivering meant winning the election.

"I didn't do that. I didn't do that despite my best efforts and I want to do now what is best my party and, above all, for my country."